Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • feedfive: Ont. student group finds creative solution for raising money to feed homeless

    (Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/Feed Five)(Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/Feed Five)

    The first thing to look at when you first see one of feedfive’s T-shirts is the fork.

    Count the tines. It’s a clever, subtle visual pun that alone is worth the $29 asking price even before you know the money is going to a good cause.

    The group of students from the University of Waterloo launched their unique piece of swag this month to support their regular gig feeding the poor and homeless at a Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., drop-in centre. One T-shirt pays for five meals prepared by the team. feedfive.

    “We wanted it to be something really cool, really simple, [that] gets your attention,” Danny Aguizi, a psychology and business grad, told Yahoo Canada.

    “We liked the fork idea because it’s really simple. Anyone knows what a fork is; you instantly get it. We added a fifth prong to it to kind of make it our own; five meals, five prongs. Most people don’t notice it. It’s kind of a small Easter egg there.”

    Danny Aguizi (left) prepares food at Ray of Hope. (Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/Feed Five)Danny Aguizi (left) prepares food at Ray of Hope. (Photo courtesy Danny Aguizi/Feed Five)

    Offering goodies in return for charitable donations is nothing new but feedfive’s

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  • 'Stop Harper' sticker campaign has potential to make a real impact, says expert

    Stickers sold by StopHarperStickers.com (courtesy StopHarperStickers.com)Stickers sold by StopHarperStickers.com (courtesy StopHarperStickers.com)

    The message on the stickers couldn’t be clearer: Stop Harper, framed in the shape of the familiar red octagonal road sign. Or just the word Harper, designed to be slapped on a real stop sign, with the added benefit of being bilingual if you’re in Quebec.

    The Stop Harper sticker campaign has become a vandalism nuisance for several Canadian cities from coast to coast, forcing them to repair or replace defaced road signs.

    The stickers first began showing up last year, documented on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. It’s reasonable to think the lengthy federal election campaign could trigger another wave of them.

    While they might seem juvenile, one political scientist suggests they’re an interesting backlash to the slick, stage-managed political advertising we now take for granted.

    Officials in Prince Rupert, on B.C.’s northern coast, reported having to replace a half-dozen signs at more than $50 a throw. On the East Coast a spate of defacements of signs around the University of

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  • Walk-in clinics can become ‘de facto’ family doctors, to chagrin of some physicians

    (Thinkstock)(Thinkstock)

    For the vast majority of Canadians a family doctor normally is their first point of contact with the medical system but a significant percentage still rely on hospital emergency departments and walk-in medical clinics.

    The reasons why an average 15 per cent of Canadians don’t have their own doctors are complex. Some haven’t been able to latch on to someone’s practice in their community while others, especially the young and healthy, don’t feel they need one.

    For instance, Statistics Canada figures show about a third of young men aged 20 to 34 don’t have their own doctors.

    StatsCan’s latest health fact sheet shows about one in four Quebecers don’t have family doctors, compared with 7.5  per cent of Ontarians and six per cent of New Brunswickers. The ratio is worst in the territories topped by Nunavut, where 82 per cent of residents have no primary care physician. B.C. is close to the national average.

    Many orphaned patients – and some who don’t want to wait for appointments – haunt

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  • Spouses of Canadian party leaders play key role, although very different from U.S.

    Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen Harper arrive at Rideau Hall August 2, 2015. (Reuters)Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen Harper arrive at Rideau Hall August 2, 2015. (Reuters)

    Laureen Harper’s pep talk to Conservative party workers in Toronto last week probably won’t be the last time we see the prime minister’s wife making solo appearances in the Oct. 19 election campaign.

    Working the small crowd of volunteers and lauding their willingness to sacrifice the rest of their summer because of the early election call, Harper fulfilled a couple of important roles of a political spouse: She was somewhere Stephen Harper couldn’t be (he was prepping for the first leaders’ debate), and she showed a facet that he generally doesn’t (personal warmth).

    Laureen Harper is a key asset in the Conservatives’ bid to win a fourth term in government, more so than the wives of Liberal Leader Justice Trudeau and the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair.

    Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and the couple’s three young children were on the campaign bus this week, while Catherine Pinhas-Mulcair’s only major appearance was to stand near her husband when he responded to Harper’s Aug. 2 election call.

    A

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  • Religious accommodations on airplanes: deal with it before the airport, says expert

    (Thinkstock)(Thinkstock)

    Canadians are an accommodating people, generally, but sometimes you can just get fed up.

    That’s what happened to Christine Flynn, a Toronto chef, after she found herself the object of a game of musical chairs aboard a Porter Airlines flight from Newark, N.J., to Toronto.

    According to the Toronto Star, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who was assigned the seat beside her started asking other passengers to change with him because Flynn was a woman who was not a relative and sitting beside her went against his religious beliefs.

    What allegedly followed was an embarrassing attempt by the Porter flight attendant to find someone who would change seats with the man. Flynn told the Star it wasn’t so much that the man deigned not to sit beside her but that he and the flight attendant viewed her as the problem.

    That, in a nutshell, was the real problem, says Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. It was not a religious-accommodation issue;

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  • Newfoundland student debt solution not needed for other provinces, officials say

    N.L. students will have a little less debt to worry about, but what about the rest of Canada? (Thinkstock)N.L. students will have a little less debt to worry about, but what about the rest of Canada? (Thinkstock)

    The debt burden post-secondary students graduate with continues to grow, so a surge of hope went through leaders of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) when Newfoundland and Labrador announced it was eliminating student loans entirely in favour of non-repayable grants and bursaries.

    Federation national deputy chairperson Anne-Marie Roy called it great news for students on The Rock.

    “They have the lowest tuition fees and now a very important amount of grants that definitely will make education more affordable for students in that province,” Roy said in an interview with Yahoo Canada.

    But the federation, which represents more than 500,000 university and college students, wants more.

    While it’s unlikely other provinces will follow suit, Roy said the federation hopes they and Ottawa, which accounts for the lion’s share of student-loan funding, get N.L.’s message.

    “Budgets are actually about priorities,” she said. “So it’s about the government making it a priority to invest in

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  • Gays scout leaders OK’d in U.S., but old news in Canada

    The City of St. John's Scouts Canada office. (CBC)The City of St. John's Scouts Canada office. (CBC)

    In a policy change that was years in the making, the Boy Scouts of America  (BSA) last week announced it would no longer bar openly gay adults from becoming scout leaders.

    Momentous as that is for scouting in the United States, it might surprise you that Scouts Canada has accepted gays and lesbians as troop leaders for almost two decades. The policy was embraced with no fanfare and apparently little controversy, perhaps a reflection of how Canada copes with social change compared with its American neighbour.

    “It was the next step that they had to logically take after their decision last year to enable gay youth members to join the organization as well,” John Petitti, Scouts Canada executive director of marketing and communications, said of the BSA’s decision.

    BSA president Robert Gates, the former U.S. defence secretary, took a bold approach in shepherding through the change, “in order to continue to sustain the organization’s relevance and growth within today’s society,” Petitti told

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  • Will a class-action suit put the brakes on Uber?

    Taxi drivers protest against Uber in Sacramento, California, June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Max WhittakerTaxi drivers protest against Uber in Sacramento, California, June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

    There’s been an inevitability about the spread of Uber, the app-based ride-sharing service, as it’s implanted itself into more cities around the world, including major Canadian ones such as Toronto and Montreal.

    Despite its popularity with riders, Uber has met opposition almost everywhere. Taxi operators see it as unfair competition and municipal governments resent Uber thumbing its nose at attempts to regulate the service.

    But it keeps expanding. Like the Borg in TV’s ‘Star Trek,’ it seems resistance is futile.

    Which raises this question: what chance does a lawsuit filed on behalf of Ontario cabbies have of succeeding where regulators and protesting cabbies almost everywhere have failed?

    A law firm has filed a class action worth more than $400 million, alleging the tech company conspired with its UberX drivers to pick up passengers for compensation, breaching Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act.

    Section 39.1 of the provincial law bans the practice of giving rides for money without proper

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  • Smoky grapes, scorched beef: ‘Agri-threats’ posed by B.C. wildfires

    A water bomber returns to Okanagan Lake during efforts to fight the wildfire in Kelowna, B.C. (Reuters)A water bomber returns to Okanagan Lake during efforts to fight the wildfire in Kelowna, B.C. (Reuters)

    If you like your wine to have a smoky flavour, having the grapes ripen in the midst of a raging wildfire is not how you get it.

    The Okanagan region of southern British Columbia once again is threatened by fires racing through the tinder-dry forests near the postcard-pretty lake shore. Some of the area’s flourishing wineries are getting ready to again protect their vineyards and buildings.

    It’s just one of the sectors of B.C.’s agriculture industry that has to worry about wildfires, whose damaging effects aren’t limited to blackened strands of timber. Cattle ranchers, pork and chicken operators and orchard-fruit growers can all find themselves scrambling if fire threatens to encroach on them.

    Memories of 2003’s Summer of Fire aren’t buried very deeply around Okanagan Lake. That year, the Okanagan Mountain Park fire ate into the grapevines at Oak Bay Vineyards and destroyed the first winery building at adjacent St. Hubertus Estate winery, as well as co-founder Leo Gebert’s home.

    “It was

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  • No single answer to best ensuring pipeline safety, say experts

    An aerial view shows the spill near the Nexen Energy's Long Lake oilsands facility. (Reuters)An aerial view shows the spill near the Nexen Energy's Long Lake oilsands facility. (Reuters)

    The recent spill of diluted oil sands bitumen after a pipeline break in northern Alberta has largely fallen off the news radar in most of Canada.

    It’s probably not surprising, given the remote location at Nexen Energy’s production site near Fort McMurray. If five million litres (about 30,000 Imperial barrels) of emulsion made up of bitumen, water and sand had created a small lake near, say, Calgary, it would be front-page news.

    Nonetheless, those who follow such things have taken note. The double-walled production pipeline was only about a year old and supposedly had the latest leak-detection technology. Both apparently failed; it was a Nexen worker who happened to be in the area who spotted the spill.

    The embattled energy industry can ill afford another black mark. It’s already tough enough  to sell Canadians on the idea of more pipelines to pump large quantities of bitumen diluted with solvents (known as diluent) through pipelines headed west to the B.C. coast, east through central

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